Friday, July 24, 2009

Limiting Myself

So much of the focus in the realm of child discipline falls under the category "Setting Limits." (Other categories might include "Communication/Negotiation" and "Managing Emotions.") Usually when I think, talk, or write about Setting Limits, I'm referring to the process of the parent setting a necessary limit for the child.

A recent example of my setting a limit for Morgan is when she wanted to jump all over the sidewalk outside a busy shopping mall, jumping toward traffic. I myself would have had a heart attack if I'd been driving a car and saw a small child jumping TOWARD the street as I was passing by. I set the limit by shooting out my arm reflexively, preventing her from jumping so near the edge of the sidewalk. (She got knocked down, too, which was not my intent--my arm had a mind of its own.) She stayed away from the edge after that!

I'm learning there's another way to set limits that is necessary (not to mention effective) in discipline. And that's when I set a limit on my own behavior.

Sometimes I do this by taking a Mommy Time Out, which is when I'm feeling really mad and verging on getting out of control (for me, this manifests itself in the Ranty Yelling that everyone is so fond of :/ ). So I'll say, uh, loudly, "I'm feeling mad! I'm going to go upstairs and sit in my room until I'm feeling more in control!" This really works for me--I can have a few minutes of peace to regain my composure, get my brain back into problem-solving mode (much more preferable to fire and brimstone mode), and models a good self-control behavior for the kids to boot. I'm getting better at using the Mommy Time Out, and I really don't need to do it very often.

But I'm becoming a fan of a new self-limiting technique: Deciding What I Will Do. When I'm frustrated with a situation--usually something with multiple occurrences over a period of time (spur-of-the-moment problems result in the Mommy Time Out self-limit)--I am learning to refocus my efforts on what I am willing to do, what I can control--my own behavior--as opposed to the kids' behavior.

We've been having issues with getting people all loaded up into the car to go somewhere. Now I usually do try to Find the Funny in these situations, but when I'm having trouble getting out the door a few times a day for several days, the humor wears thin and frustration bubbles to the surface. I begin to anticipate that we WILL have a problem, putting a chip on my shoulder about it before I've even uttered the words "We're leaving in 15 minutes!" (Not a good way to approach a situation where problem-solving may be necessary.)

About a week ago, after a Get in the Car problem was "solved" by my shouting "GET IN THE CAR!!!" I decided to get a grip on MY part of the problem. I actually sat down and asked myself these questions:

Why did I shout?

Because I felt like nobody was listening. Louder = Harder to Ignore, right?

Why is this situation so frustrating to me?

Because I'm repeating myself so many times and we really need to get out the door.

And the most important question: What is something about this situation that is in MY control?

The number of times I choose to repeat myself.

This was quite an epiphany. I do NOT have to repeat myself a zillion times and raise my blood pressure. Seems kind of obvious now. :o)

So what can I do to limit MY behavior?

I thought about this for a while. I decided that I will give up to two reminders. I will do my very best to make sure I have their attention when I give those reminders, but after that, I'm done.

What will happen as a result of this new limit?

It depends on why we need to leave the house. If I say my two reminders and nobody gets in the car, then an obvious result would be that we just don't go. And that is okay, if the person who is dawdling or resisting is the person we're leaving the house for--if we're taking Ryan to taekwondo, for example. If he refuses to cooperate, then he doesn't go.

But it's not fair to Ryan if he has to miss his activity when Morgan is the one who is refusing to get ready to go. In those situations, I decided that I would simply physically put the person in the car (kindly, without yelling or ranting) and we can stay in the car after we reach our destination to recover from the inevitable sadness.

Now when I am the one who needs to do something, such as run an errand, I'll have to evaluate whether or not I'd like to go to the store with one or more kids possibly having a big fit. If I think they will be able to recover from the indignity of being put into the car against their will, then I'll go ahead with the plan. If not, then we won't go. Not fair to me--no. But sometimes preferable to having everyone wigging out when I'm trying to accomplish something, especially if we're in a public place. I can express my feelings about it though. And if we are lacking in favorite snacks because we couldn't get in the car to go to the grocery store, then so be it. And we can always try again a little later, when everyone is in a better frame of mind. Do Overs are always an option.

So this all sounded like a good plan to me when I thought it up. I told Ryan and Morgan about my Only Repeating Things Twice Rule, explaining that two was my upper limit, not a standard (since I don't want them to get in the habit of waiting for that second reminder). They seemed to understand what I was saying about not enjoying losing my temper after being frustrated by constantly repeating myself, and that I was trying to focus on what I could do about that situation. (My Two Reminders Rule goes for other situations, too, not just when we need to load up in the car.)

My new plan was really put to the test the other morning though. Ryan was resisting getting ready for taekwondo, and they were really cutting it close in order to get there on time. The rule is that if any student is more than 5 minutes late to class, that student doesn't get to go. I've actually seen kids get turned away for being too late. To be fair to the students who are in the gym on time, they don't like for there to be interruptions that occur from late-arrivals. This is a rule that all of the students are quite aware of.

Well, Ryan was just fooling around over breakfast that morning and couldn't seem to get his uniform on. Brendan and his mom were going to take him, so I wasn't going anyway. I reminded Ryan once to get his uniform on, once, twice, and nearly a third time before I remembered my limit. WOW. Was it HARD not to say anything else! Brendan came through with a couple of other reminders--but that's up to him, how many times he reminds.

I did mention the 5 minute rule (that being a different reminder than the uniform reminder). I mentioned it only once to Ryan though. After that, I sat and squirmed and fought against my desire to do almost anything to make sure he made it to class in time. I was surprised at how much I wanted Ryan not to miss taekwondo. I knew he would be sad if he was turned away, and no parent enjoys seeing their child sad about something.

Still. I didn't say anything. They did get out the door and made it to class, barely in time. Now that I've had practice at not saying anything, and the experience of the overwhelming desire TO say something so that the kid will get what he wants, I think I'll be better prepared to keep to my personal limit and let the consequences fall where they may. I suspect he'll have to experience missing class at least once, and that will be hard, but it will be his decision and his responsibility.

It was a funny situation because I am usually so grumpy about repeating myself. When I'm in a Grumpy Moment, I really don't care if somebody misses something. But since I prevented myself from getting to the grumpy point, I had the opportunity to be all sympathetic. Strange feeling. So hard not to give them what they want and let them have what they need. [Insert Rolling Stones here.]

This thinking about my own limits has been a good exercise for me. I like doing it because it helps me focus on MY needs, which I sometimes forget to do in the shuffle, which adds to the grumpiness. And it helps the kids realize that I have needs. If I don't speak up and tell them "This is what I'm going to do because I want/need something...." then they will probably not realize that I even have needs or desires.

Because in their view--and this is only kind of a joke--I'm MOM, not an actual person. :o) Now I know the baby doesn't understand this distinction, having only recently grasped the idea that he and I are separate entities, but the other two are beginning to get that Mom-as-such is not who I am. I am Jenn, who happens to be their Mommy. I know it's a hard distinction and it may very well take each of them reaching adulthood to fully realize it, but they're not going to get it if I never mention it!

Now, shortly after I figured all of this Setting My Own Limits thing out on my own, my Positive Discipline Parenting Tool Cards arrived in the mail! If you don't recall, this is a little deck of 52 cards, each describing or defining a Positive Discipline principle. The Tool Cards were developed by Jane Nelsen and Adrian Garsia and are brand new. (I get nothing from mentioning these--just passing along the info!) The idea is that you choose one card about once a week and focus on improving that particular parenting skill. Not that you don't use other PD techniques, of course.

So I was flipping through the deck of cards and whaddya know? One of the cards is called: "Decide What You Will Do." The principle on the card is:

"Decide what you will do instead of trying to make children do what you want them to do."

And that's what I did! So this particular idea has been my parenting focus for the last few days. I think what I'll do is share with you which idea I'm working on improving, and talking about it a little bit on the blog. It will help me retain this focus, and since writing on the blog is a way for me to introspect about my particular parenting experiences, I think making this exercise into a semi-regular blog feature will serve me well. Because I have needs, too!!!! :o)

So--thoughts on the Setting My Own Limits thing? I have other techniques that will help us get out the door, too--using the kitchen timer as the Keeper of Time will help, for example.

Also, what about the PD Tool Card semi-regular feature? I've got a whole stack of cards with issues I certainly could improve on. What I was thinking of doing is sharing the idea on the card first, and then do a follow up post with my successes and failures.

And now I'm off to tackle the other things on my To Do list!


Kate said...

I have an 8 month old and a 3 year old. My 3 year old is going through the terrible three's right now. I really have to try and keep my emotions in check these days (especially from about 5:30pm to bedtime). It is good advice to announce to your child that you are going to do something to change your own behavior. I will give this a try. Perhaps my 3 year old will follow suit and start announcing that he will go to his room and have some quiet time on his own.

Scarlett, the DG said...

This is a fantastic way to model self-control, self-respect and personal responsibility for your kids. Awesome job! Telling my son over the years that I was frustrated, tired, or sick seemed very un-parent-like, but now he sees me sigh and asks if I'm tired. My honesty about being a person with feelings and faults means we talk pretty openly about my mistakes and his goof-ups.

Rachel said...

Yes, please teach us about PD principles by means of chronicling your adventures with the cards!

A Quibble:

When I was growing up, my father would constantly complain that I only ever did the minimum necessary to get what I want, that I pushed things to their limits to see what I could get away with. Perhaps there was some truth in his perspective.

However, on many occasions, my knowledge of how many chances I would receive, or how much leeway was available to me strongly factored into my behavior.

What I'm getting at is that it seems to me that if you tell the kids that you are going to give three verbal reminders/warnings, it's a tad disingenuous to then immediately request that they not take advantage of them.

Speaking from the perspective of the child who receives such a declaration, my question would be (always was, when I was in that position), "Do I get those chances or not? If so, why should I feel guilty about taking them?"

Every time my father got on my case about such things, my attitude was, "And why should I devote more time and energy than necessary to get what I want?"

Keep in mind that I was raised in a strongly religious household, and altruism was taken utterly for granted. So generosity on my part was never offered more than grudgingly. I fully expect that a child who is encouraged to take pride in his selfish interests will develop a strong sense of generosity and eventually learn that consideration toward you by not eliciting all three reminders will serve him better in his extended relationship with you.

But for the moment, it will almost certainly appear, from his context of knowledge, that pushing the envelope is in his interest.

Sarah said...

As a little kid (I don't remember but my mom tells me), I was utterly shocked when I found out that my mom's name wasn't actually MOM but Susan. The concept of moms as people in their own right was definitely something I had to learn!

Beth said...

Your observation about how much YOU wanted Ryan to not miss the class is one that hits home.

A mistake I made repeatedly with my now-16 y.o. son was rescuing him from consequences because it was important to me that he have some experience or opportunity. I am now paying the price. He is not very good at identifying his own values and knowing how to achieve them. (He is not incapable, just not very good at it.)
I don't think it is too late to effect his growth in this area, but I have to constantly remind myself that it is important for me not to care more than he does about his values. Taekwando (or in my son's case it was karate and a myriad other things) feels really important at the time--but it is so obvious now that those things were inconsequential compared to choosing a college, or a major area of study, or getting a job.

Hang in there--the price you and Ryan will pay now is cheap compared to what it will cost in the future to learn that same lesson!

Rational Jenn said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Kate--you have my utmost sympathy about the Terrible Threes! It is very hard, especially from the dinner hour on. It will pass--promise! It's also hard on a soul, when Mom & Dad gave him a baby sister/brother without even asking him. My oldest asked us when we would be returning Morgan to the hospital--for YEARS.

Scarlett--long time no see!!!! :o) I do think it's so important that they see us as human beings. And I'm ever-hopeful that one day, that this will actually happen. I'm glad your son has figured it out! :o)

Rachel--you make an excellent point about taking advantage of and pushing limits. That is something every child excels at. I fully expect that they will push me to see if I go past 2 reminders--and I have, since I'm in the (bad) habit of giving reminders until I lose my temper. But I think that once I learn to better learn to hold myself to this limit, they will figure out that I will be consistent in this area and tend toward getting on with their responsibilities or not, as necessary. The important thing is that I limit myself so that I do not reach the boiling point. That is a more important personal goal for me at the moment. I'm hopeful this will be a win-win kind of thing. Accepting responsibility for one's actions all around means a nicer mommy and more cooperative kids! I realize that I could be missing something here and it's possible that it will all go horribly wrong! But at least I'll learn to keep my temper in check! :o)

Sarah--I had a similar experience upon learning my mom's name is Cathy! Until that moment, I had no idea who people kept referring to. That's part of the reason I don't mind when my kids occasionally call us "Jenn" and "Brendan." ;)

Beth--It IS such an overpowering feeling, isn't it? I had to force myself to sit in my chair and not go over and hand him his uniform. I even Twittered while doing it--good way to vent frustration, Twitter. I think you nailed the issue when you said:

...but I have to constantly remind myself that it is important for me not to care more than he does about his values.

If I really respect my child's right to HIS values, then I need to give him responsibility for them. Full responsibility for them. That means if he doesn't want to do it any more, he's allowed to quit. That means as he gets older and more independent, maybe paying part of the fee, or driving himself there one day.

And that's why it's so important for all of us parents to keep OUR values in our sights. Yes, I value his experience with taekwondo, and I'm so happy he enjoys it and is getting exercise, etc. But I have another value--that of him becoming an independent person who takes responsibility for his own values. And in this instance that latter value of mine took precedence over the lesser value, that of providing an enjoyable enriching experience for him.

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to comment! :o)

Amy said...

Please make the cards a feature on the blog. Great idea.

Kate said...

Hi Jenn!

My husband told me that I had to read your blog, that you were a parent that thought so much like us, it was spooky.

It is. :-) It's wonderful to meet you - and a great story about your own emotional self-control. Our method of raising kids has led us into producing a three-year-old, who reads us lectures entitled "If grown-ups want kids to listen to them, they need to listen to the kids," which get repeated every time he objects to something he isn't getting. We are, of course, immensely proud of him! Pride aside, you can see how emotional self-control is a hot topic for me.

Great post all-around!